ADVENTURES OF A SCHOLAR GYPSY
HAVING HAD the opportunity to get to know our Provincial Assistant Bishop through his interview with Robbie Low last month, readers might like to have some first hand impressions of what Bishop David means to the Welsh and their need to preserve the integrity and identity of those faithful to Tradition within this Land.
David began his ministry among us with a tour of the Province, where he met hundreds of lay and clerical supporters in splendid and joyful celebrations. It must have seemed to him, as he began this journeying, that he was really going to have to take to heart Archbishop David Hope’s description of him as “God’s Gypsy”!
It was interesting to note that in his sermon on these occasions – the equivalent I suppose of the enthronement sermons of diocesans, where a manifesto and agenda can be set forth – Bishop David spoke of his vision of the unity of the church and his rôle as a minister to that unity. He was not a bishop just for a special constituency, nor a bishop to serve a faithful though dying remnant, but a bishop of the whole Church and a bishop for everyone. It was clear that he was going to take his full part in all the structures of the province and make sure his voice was heard. And we have not been without evidence that this has been happening over the past few months.
One of his obvious concerns has been ordinands and those currently in the diaconate. He has made visits to St. Michael’s College in Llandaff and students there have been given the opportunity to meet with him in private and discuss their needs and difficulties.
The first “crisis” of the new era for the Church in Wales came in mid-March when a group, having met to celebrate their “success” in getting women priests, issued a statement objecting to the idea that the PAB was to celebrate Chrism masses, to ordain deacons and priests, and to confirm. This, they said, was “going beyond anything the Governing Body ever envisaged.” A spokesman for Credo Cymru said that this seemed a strange idea to float. “What did they think we fought for and got from the Bench in their pastoral guidelines attached to the Bill? Someone to run to and tell our troubles who would hold our hands or pat us on the head and tell us not to worry? The guidelines talk of pastoral and sacramental care and it is this, and this only, that can hold together the Church in Wales. We have worked and behaved in every way that will maintain and enhance that unity and Bishop David has done nothing that has been without the agreement of the other Bishops.”
In Passion Week and Holy Week our Bishop presided at four celebrations of the Eucharist at which priests and deacons renewed their commitment to service in the Church, and the Holy Oils were blessed. Close on 200 priests took part in these services — nearly a third of all in the Province — and again we were blessed with joyful celebrations as Bishop David led our thoughts about his and our ministry in the Church based on the words from the Christmas hymn: “And he leads his children on, to the place where he is gone”: a leading which was always through the Cross to the glorious new life of the resurrection.
We now look forward to the first ordinations of priests and deacons for our brothers in the faith. Thank God, a “third option” of “men only” ordinations by the diocesan bishops has melted away, for this would surely have gone against the spirit of the exercise in internal ecumenism in which we are now engaged and sent a doubtful, indeed insulting, message to any women seeking ordination at this time.
God’s Gipsy is on the move. Not just the move to his new home in Abergavenny (announced with a change of address card featuring a gypsy caravan) but in a physical moving around our country, matched by people like the priest who made a 200-mile round trip to be at one of the Chrism Eucharists; and above all in the moving prompted by the Holy Spirit, whose coming and feast we celebrate this month, through the hearts of the faithful, doing God’s work of kindling in them the fire of God’s love.
Alan Rabjohns is Vicar of St. Saviour’s, Splott in the diocese of Llandaff.